What’s better than an absolutely awesome, jam-packed first day in Houston?
The feeling I had waking up on the morning of September 22 and knowing that I had another full day to explore Minute Maid Park, enjoy my downtown stadium-facing hotel and soak up all the fun that a baseball road trip provides.
I woke up super early so that I could set up my GoPro on one my window ledges and capture the sun rising over Minute Maid Park. Pretty majestic view, right?
While the GoPro snapped hundreds of shots that I used to build this time-lapse video (I’d love if you could click the thumbs-up button, by the way!) I started to browse the photos that I’d taken at the Astros game the night before and catch up on some highlights on ESPN of the previous evening’s action — all while enjoying hanging out in my outstanding hotel room.
In case you missed my previous post, I was fortunate to be staying at the Westin Houston Downtown — one of the nicest hotels in Houston and a perfect choice for fans visiting the city to see the Astros. Its great location aside, my guest room was one of the nicest I’ve ever been in. I was fortunate to get a corner room, which meant there were windows on two sides of the room, giving it a nice, open feel. Here’s one look at the room:
And another shot:
It was a great experience to relax in my awesome room for a bit, but soon it was time to explore the hotel a little. The hotel really plays up its close proximity to Minute Maid Park — each of the conference/event rooms in the hotel has a different baseball-related name and one of the on-site restaurants is called the Ballpark Cafe. Given the name of my website and blog, it only made sense to check the place out for lunch.
Boy, was I impressed! This was no ordinary lunch — it was one that I can easily count among the very best meals I’ve ever eaten.
You can check out the Ballpark Cafe’s menu here to view all the impressive fare. Despite what I ate the previous night at the ballgame, I was hungry again and absolutely enticed by many of the menu’s items. I started with the Yellow Tuna Tataki dish, which featured sliced tuna with edamame aioli and ginger soy sauce; for my main course, I had the Certified Angus Filet Mignon, served with Patron green peppercorn sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus.
Now, I’m no food reviewer, but I can tell you that every bite of each dish was absolutely outstanding. The meal was one of those that I consider myself fortunate to have eaten.
Once I’d eaten, I headed back to my room to relax for a bit before snapping this shot of downtown Houston out my window …
… and then setting up my GoPro to take another few thousand shots that I could use to build another time-lapse video. I like how the clouds cast shadows on the buildings in this one:
Once I my GoPro finished its work and I enjoyed a bit more lounging in my room, it was time to pack up for the super-short walk over to the ballpark.
Having a second day in an MLB city is ideal because it doubles the time you can devote to checking out the park and the area around it, so I soon found myself exploring areas that I hadn’t had a chance to see a day earlier. My first stop was another parking lot that provided a spot where I could take this panorama of the outside of the ballpark:
I spent the next little while wandering around the exterior of the park, taking shots like this one:
And this one, of the park’s notable tower structure:
Despite the searing heat, the pregame walking was a blast — it’s always awesome to get to check out MLB facilities. Soon enough, it was time to head inside. A day earlier, there were a few people ahead of me in line; on this day, I was the first fan into the park through my gate. Needless to say, the scene was pretty quiet even a few minutes later:
I took advantage of the early lack of a crowd to head down to the visiting side’s dugout so that I could see some of the Angels players up close. I had no trouble securing a spot in the front row where I had an awesome view of the action. Shane Victorino, who is a player I’ve enjoyed watching for years, was so close to where I stood that I heard him actually say “Aloha” to a fan who’d joined me in the front row. A moment later, I snapped this shot of the Flyin’ Hawaiian playing catch …
… and I was amused that he’d yet to put on his belt. It’s hard to see in the above photo, but Victorino was wearing a custom Nike warmup shirt that paid tribute to his Hawaiian heritage. Here’s a zoomed-in shot of another picture I took that depicts the logo:
Soon enough, this guy captured my attention:
Albert Pujols has been one of my favorite players since he came into the major leagues, so it was awesome to see him so close. I’d previously seen him back in 2012 at Fenway Park and, of course, a day earlier in Houston, but now he was immediately on the other side of the dugout railing and just a few feet away. I took a ton of pictures of him, including this one that I really like:
When Pujols finished tossing, he moved over toward the cage to begin stretching, so I followed him as best I could and took shots like this:
Afterward, he moved back toward me and I took a bunch of shots like this, which show just how close he was:
OK, convinced that I was stalking Pujols? You’re sort of correct, but let’s move on, shall we?
I took one more photo from the dugout area — this shot of Collin Cowgill’s glove …
… and then it was time to find some other parts of the park to explore. My first stop was the second deck in right field, where I took this shot of the custom iron work on the railings:
And this panorama of the scene from where I stood:
As you might have noticed in the panorama, the huge windows beyond left and center field were casting crazy shadows on the field. I like how this shot of four Angels and their shadows turned out:
I continued on my quest and noticed a couple cool MLB All-Star Game artifacts from past seasons, including this cowboy boot from the 2004 game in Houston:
And from the 2010 game in Anaheim:
Sort of interesting that these two statues represented the home fields for the two teams playing in the evening’s game, huh?
By this time, first pitch was starting to sneak up, so I took advantage of the opportunity to check out the concession stands like I had done a day earlier. This time, I made up my mind pretty quickly — I went with a chicken fried steak sandwich that featured Nolan Ryan Texas Beef. (He’s got a beef company in Texas, as you might have guessed.) Here’s a shot of this glorious sandwich:
It was delicious! I’d never eaten chicken fried steak in the past, but I figured that a visit to Texas was the right time to try it. The steak was nice and tender and it didn’t take long until this hulking sandwich was just a memory.
I took a post-meal digestion break by watching a few minutes of the Astros pregame show …
… before heading over to the third base side of home in time for the start of the first inning:
I was glad to have this spot because the visitor’s side of the first inning proved to be eventful as Mike Trout …
… and Pujols hit back-to-back home runs:
Fireworks aside, it was awesome to have such a close view of the action. Here’s Houston’s 5’5″ Jose Altuve, who is one of the more exciting MLBers to watch:
After I’d spent a few innings in this spot, it was time to continue exploring the park. I headed all the way up to the upper deck and over toward the train that you’ve undoubtedly seen on TV broadcasts. This next shot gives you a behind-the-scenes view — I took it while standing at the end of the train tracks; obviously, the train only travels as far as the windows that you see in the center of the image, but it was neat to have this vantage point of the train:
Upon looking at the train, I went out to the seats and found an open area where I watched a couple innings with this view:
From up here, I had a different view of the train:
I don’t think I’d realized from seeing the train on TV over the past several years that it has a driver — although I admittedly don’t watch Astros games very often. I also thought it was funny how the train car has the Nolan Ryan Texas Beef logo on it, yet it’s carrying a load of oranges as a tip of the cap to the company that holds the ballpark’s naming rights.
Once I’d spent a bit of time with this bird’s-eye view, I went back down to the main level and checked out one of the team shops. I was drawn to one of the historical displays featuring seats from the old Astrodome:
Did you know that it was originally called “Harris County Domed Stadium” when it opened in 1965? I sure didn’t.
As I often do during the latter half of the game when I’m visiting a ballpark on consecutive days, I found a seat with a great view of the action — behind home plate, in this instance — put my camera away and simply enjoyed the remainder of the game. After the final out, I made the quick walk back to my hotel room and got to bed in anticipation of getting up at 4 a.m. to fly from Houston to Chicago, Chicago to Toronto and then drive home.
Thanks for joining me to read about my adventure in Texas. It truly was an outstanding experience and one that I look forward to experiencing again soon!
Having an enjoyable, relaxing experience in Lowell on August 20 did wonders for my cold, and although I wasn’t feeling 100 percent just yet, going to Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox — and a great opponent in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — does wonders to improve how you feel. I spent the morning of August 21 doing some touristy things around Boston, before heading to my hotel in the early afternoon and looking forward to visiting Fenway Park again.
For the two nights I stayed in Boston, I was at the Holiday Inn Express Saugus. This hotel is just outside of the city, which makes a huge difference because Boston is not a cheap place to visit. With most hotels close to Fenway Park going for $300 and up a night, it definitely makes sense to stay outside of the city’s core.
The Holiday Inn Express Saugus is ideal because it’s only about 20 minutes from Fenway Park (more during periods of high traffic) and it’s located on a main artery that takes you right into Boston. There’s no messing around and getting lost where this hotel is concerned. Additionally, the area around the hotel is full of restaurants, grocery stores, fast-food places and more. On my second night, I made a short walk down the road to a Panera Bread that was less than a mile away, for instance.
Here’s the front of the hotel:
I was impressed with my room, and as I’ve said previously, I had great luck with hotels on this trip. The room was large and featured all the amenities I needed for a two-night stay. This is what my room looked like:
Mid-afternoon, I packed up and made to drive back to Boston. Doing so wasn’t intimidating because I’d already been to the city and Fenway Park itself for the Futures at Fenway game three days earlier. As you might remember, I paid just $10 to park for that game, so when I got to Boston and started seeing $35, $45 and $50 parking lots, I scoffed at the type of people who’d pay that much to park. In fact, I even took this photo …
… to illustrate just how much people will pay to park for a Red Sox game. Fortunately, I knew the secret and I expertly navigated the streets to find my trusty ol’ lot. You can imagine my slow-motion, confused reaction when I saw that the lot was charging $35 for parking. I quickly realized the price had been dropped for the Futures game because it wasn’t a Red Sox game. Stunned, I started to pull into the lot but then had a change of heart. I couldn’t accept this price, which was more than the ticket I’d bought for the game.
So what did I do? I drove around the city for 10 minutes before returning to the lot and handing the attendant two $20 bills. Argh. That took a little of the wind out of my sails, but when I got out of my car and turned the corner, this sight quickly cheered me up:
Although I’d done a million laps of Fenway Park and the surrounding area when I was here for the Futures game, I enjoyed wandering around again. With a Red Sox game a few hours away, there was definitely more electricity in the air, even with the Sox’ struggles this season. Instead of repeating the same type of shots as in my Futures post, I’ll focus on things I didn’t see/share last time.
I checked out the statue of the recently deceased Johnny Pesky, which had crowds around it whenever I saw it:
I returned again to the Bleacher Bar (but didn’t get IDed this time) where I could look through the gate to see a couple Red Sox during batting practice:
By now, the streets were starting to fill up, and I continued to walk around and snap photos. One of the coolest areas outside Fenway Park is the wall covered in player banners and retired numbers. Trivia time: Anyone know the weirdly ironic connection between the Tris Speaker banner and Jackie Robinson number?
After a while, I picked up my ticket at the will call window. I love the 100 Years logo on these tickets:
Since I’d done a lot of walking, I decided to get in line and wait for the street to open back up again. As I waited, I looked over at the NESN set, and guess who I saw? Peter Gammons:
It was a good thing I got in line when I did, because check out what the scene looked like ahead of me:
Soon enough, the gates opened up and I stepped into Fenway Park for my first Red Sox game. Although the crowds were fierce, the seating bowl wasn’t overly stuffed, so I was able to make it down to the front row behind home plate for batting practice:
After a few minutes watching from here, I moved over to the first base side and had this view:
My mission was to get close to Pesky’s Pole, as I hadn’t been able to do so during my previous visit. I still wasn’t sure about the legality of signing it, but given that it’s completely covered in signatures, I wanted to give it a shot. When the crowd dispersed slightly, I made it up to the pole and signed my name quickly. You can see it right in the center of the right side of the pole. Yep, it’s the one with all those Ms and Ls:
As I milled around at field level, I was able to see a handful of Red Sox stretching. I should note that I visited a few days before the mega Boston-Los Angeles trade, but even still, the Sox lineup wasn’t exactly brimming with superstars because of injuries. Still, it was cool to see Jarred Saltalamacchia (so close I could see the white paint on his fingernails):
Shortly before 7 p.m., I made my way toward my first vantage point of the game. I had a standing room only ticket that gave me free reign anywhere in the infield, provided I wasn’t actually in the seating bowl. Tickets like this are common at Fenway Park; in many standing room areas, people are four and five deep. On the third base side, I peered through the crowds and had this view during the anthem:
Then, in a tribute to Pesky, the Sox did three cool things. They draped the Green Monster in an American flag:
Pointed out the #6 cut into the grass in left field:
And Pesky’s son threw out the first pitch:
As the game was seconds from getting underway, I managed to squeeze into a tight spot at a railing, which gave me something to lean against, at least. The view wasn’t exactly superb, but it just seemed like part of the Fenway Park experience. Here’s what I saw from my spot:
From here, parts of the field were slightly obstructed, but I had a perfect view of the plate, which was perfect given that I really wanted to see Mike Trout:
I watched an inning or two from this spot, and then decided to continue trekking around. I enjoy walking, but I’m not a huge fan of standing. I ventured toward the left field corner where I saw this neat-looking sign:
And when I followed the arrow, I made it to a spot overlooking the Monster, which was packed:
If you’re wondering, there’s no sneaking onto it; security here is very tight. From roughly the same area, I turned and captured this panorama of the park before it got too dark:
Remember how I had the Bud Deck virtually to myself during the Futures at Fenway game? That wasn’t the case during this visit:
Somewhere high above the third base side, I came across a wall featuring concert posters of acts that have played at Fenway. I thought I’d walked around the entire park during my earlier visit, but I completely missed this. The display was really neat and featured acts from the Rolling Stones to Boston bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
From there, I went all the way to the other side of the park — back to the Bud Deck, where I looked down on the sea of people in the right field bleachers. I like how this shot turned out. Can you see the Lone Red Seat? I sure can’t:
Last year, I took two long road trips in May and June. This year, my first trip was in May, but I hadn’t taken an extended trip as late as August until now. One thing I realized is that late-summer trips aren’t as conducive to photos. In May and June, for example, I can take pretty decent photos up until perhaps the seventh inning or so. But in August, things are dark around the third or fourth inning, which means photos are a little more challenging. Before things got too dark, I took this photo of the purple sky above the press box:
And this panorama of the city:
As the sky got darker, I found a somewhat low-traffic standing-room spot on the first base side and stood there for the rest of the game. When I zoomed in with my camera, I could still take half-decent shots …
… but that soon became more difficult. So, I put my camera away, leaned against a wall and enjoyed the best sport in the world in the sport’s most celebrated venue.